Reflections on flying…

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Aeroprakt A22LS Foxbat

I have loved aeroplanes and flying as far back as I can remember and was lucky enough at the age of 17 to be taught to fly in the UK by the Royal Naval Fleet Air Arm under their cadet flying scholarship scheme.

Many years later, after a serious dalliance with hot air ballooning, I revitalised my fixed-wing license and came to live in Australia, where my life in the air has been transformed in many wonderful ways I could never have dreamed. Flying became my business and viewing Australia from the air became my pleasure.

The main vehicle for this transformation has been the Aeroprakt A22 – known fondly in Australia and several other countries as the Foxbat.

The Foxbat is one of a relatively new breed of simple yet hi-tech aircraft designed and manufactured using modern technology and materials. It fits the ‘Light Sport Aircraft’ (LSA) category developed in the USA nearly 15 years ago and enthusiastically adopted in Australia in 2006. In many ways, LSAs – including the Foxbat – represent the cutting edge of current light aviation and are well-suited to flying in Australia.

They often carry more weight, usually fly faster, stall slower and use far less fuel than most of their old General Aviation 2-seat counterparts. And into the bargain, they are more manoeuvrable, more fun to fly and are much much less expensive to maintain. Learning to fly in an LSA is a delight – and costs much less than you may think.

Glasair Sportsman

My logbook now shows that, apart from the Foxbat (and its various versions) I have flown almost 30 different aircraft types (excluding various sizes of hot air balloon). Probably my all-time favourite was a Glasair Sportsman, which I bought, as a ‘two weeks to taxi’ used aircraft, from the USA. Apart from its ‘desert’ camouflage paint scheme complete with ‘wild pig’ teeth at the front  (which you either loved or loathed – she who must be obeyed loathed it!) it was a real delight to fly. Fitted with oversize tyres, it would get you in and out of small strips, carry full fuel plus two good sized people and about 70kgs of luggage. And it cruised around 140 knots into the bargain. I had to sell it to give a bit of cash injection into my business but it was a sorry day when I flew it to its new owner.

Seabird Seeker

Perhaps the most disappointing was the Seabird Seeker. Since first seeing photos of one when I lived in the UK, I’d always wanted one but a new one was way way out of my budget. Until a used version – in fact the original factory demonstrator – came up for sale at less than the price of a new Foxbat. The Seeker looks a bit like a fixed wing helicopter, with a ‘bubble’ cabin in front and a pusher configuration propeller and engine up behind your head. The aircraft was designed and built, by the renowned Adams family in Queensland, as a surveillance aircraft. And this is where I should have listened to a few warning signals….the plane was amazingly stable in all modes of flight; whatever you did with the controls, it always wanted to return to straight and level – perfect for a surveillance role but not really much fun for the pilot! The mogas approved 160hp Lycoming engine was a bit under powered for a biggish plane in hot and high density altitude flying in Australia. And it was incredibly noisy. And very complex to maintain – I suppose it was primarily designed for civil/military use rather than private flying. But I held on to it for a couple of years before a buyer in the USA made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Interstate Cadet

I’ve also owned an Interstate Cadet, still the only one in Australia. A beautiful old thing, built in 1942, well refurbished in the mid-2000s as a bush plane, with a surprisingly nimble turn of speed and take-off. Apart from needing a degree in contortionism to get in and out of the front (pilot) seat, it was very comfortable and forgiving to fly. Over the years, the type has been made famous by Kent ‘Jelly Belly’ Pietsch who flies a couple of great routines – one with engine off aerobatics, including a dead stick landing, as well as a comedy routine where pieces of the aircraft ‘fall off’ – notably an aileron. In a testament to the airframe, the aircraft remains aerobatic even after the aileron is detached. Kent also lands his Interstate on top of a mobile home, albeit with a flat ‘runway’ top, which is quite something to see.

Vans RV7A

Then at completely at the opposite end of the scale there was a Vans RV7…I have always been very wary of buying, without a personal inspection, an amateur built aircraft but an engineer friend checked it out and pronounced it straight and well-built. Again, it was one of my dream planes and great to fly, particularly if you wanted to get somewhere fast! Up at 8,500 feet it would true out at around 170 knots. The downside to all this haste was a bit of a jittery ride in turbulence, which got a bit tiresome after a couple of hours in the saddle. In contrast, the Interstate just loped along at 80 or 90 knots with much of the turbulence absorbed by those big fabric covered wooden-sparred wings.

Other aircraft on the list include Piper Colts (in which I initially learned to fly), Piper Cherokee 140s, a Chipmunk, a couple of Super Cubs, many different Evektor SportStars, a Tecnam or two, a Cessna 152, a Thorp T211, a Slingsby T67, a Beagle Terrier (for flying training when spinning was on the syllabus and the Colt just couldn’t cut it), a Beagle Pup (which, although severely underpowered, was a delight to fly once you got off the ground…which took quite a while), a Dimona motor glider, and a Cubcrafters Carbon Cub. Also on the list is a Grumman AA-5 Cheetah which the instructor (only half-jokingly) told me that I wasn’t allowed to put the notoriously fragile castering nose wheel on the ground until the aircraft was parked.

Just lately, I have been doing quite a bit of flying in a new, Czech built LSA called a DirectFly Alto…but that’s another story.

I am very happy to have made Tyabb Airport my flying home and that of the Aeroprakt A22 Foxbat in Australia – come and visit us in Hangar 11 just south of the main Peninsula Aero Club House.

In our thoughts…

In our thoughts: here, in the relative cool of our base near Melbourne, it’s almost impossible to imagine the sheer scale and devastation of the bushfires our fellow human beings are experiencing only a couple of hundred kilometres to the east and beyond. Not to mention the many thousands, perhaps millions of animals that have perished.
Our hearts and thoughts go out to everyone affected and hope that there will soon be an end to these fires. As we are in the aviation business ourselves, our thoughts also naturally turn to the pilots and crews of the water and retardant dropping aircraft who are flying in the most horrendous of conditions – over and over again. Thank you to them for their courage and persistence.
If you don’t already know, you can make financial donations to a number of organisations which are directly involved in supporting the people who need help – from families who have lost loved ones, to those who have lost their homes and businesses, to the firefighters and their support teams, and to those providing support facilities for burned and injured animals.
Here’s a list of organisations through whom you can make a donation:
– Australian Red Cross: http://bit.ly/39JKGAT
– Salvation Army: http://bit.ly/35ieH7i
– Community Enterprise Foundation: http://bit.ly/2SWzMl5
– Victoria Country Fire Authority: http://bit.ly/2QZ7wMj
– New South Wales Country Fire Authority: http://bit.ly/2FnclcC
– World Wildlife Fund: http://bit.ly/2ZSbla7
– Gippsland (SE Victoria) Emergency Relief Fund: http://bit.ly/2QpAaHi
If you haven’t already, please make a donation – every amount counts.

Low flying

Just recently, there seems to have been a spate of low flying accidents in LSAs and ultralights, some of which have involved even experienced low level pilots. And a couple of incidents where the pilot had no low level approval or endorsement. And I’m not talking about landing or take-off accidents.

A lot of LSAs and ultralights – including Foxbats and Vixxens – are bought by landowners for use on their properties – which sometimes includes low flying. By which I mean at heights often well below the 500 foot (normally) legal minimum height. Landowners can fly at any height over their own land.

However, there is a safety reason for the 500 foot height limit – even a small error made at heights under 500 feet can rapidly develop into a major disaster unless you have the right training to avoid and/or quickly correct. The risks rise exponentially if you’re flying at heights as low as 100 or 200 feet, and losing concentration even for a second or two can be catastrophic. Add in slow flight, obstacles, wires and wind and you really need to know what you are doing at low level.

So, first off – if you’re going to do low flying at all, GET A LOW FLYING ENDORSEMENT! There’s a lot more to flying close to the ground than at first you may think. See CASR 1998, Subpart 61.Q – Low‑level ratings, for the main requirements.

Both CASA and RA Australia have published clear requirements for low level flying endorsements both of which have minimum flying hours on type and passing a flight test – normally after a minimum of 5 hours’ instruction at low level on type. To stay legal, there are also currency requirements – eg completion of at least 2 hours of low level flight during the previous 6 months – and flight review requirements, eg CASA requires an instructor flight review for the low level endorsement every 12 months to ensure you retain the skills needed. RA Australia also requires the pilot to give good reason why they should have a low-level endorsement in the first place.

Second, if you have a low level endorsement and you plan to fly low on a regular basis, it is highly recommended that you WEAR A HELMET! In another life, I used to ride a motorcycle for a couple of hours every day. We had a saying then – ‘if you’ve got a $10 head, put it in a $10 helmet…or even better, save your money!’ Now I don’t know about you but I reckon my head is worth a lot more than $10 (some might argue otherwise), so make sure it’s a good quality helmet with a good quality headset.

Unlike motor vehicles, most aircraft – certainly LSAs and ultralights – are not fitted with airbags. However well designed to absorb impact, an airframe can only do so much to protect you. As your head can so easily be injured, protect it with a helmet!

Third, MAKE SURE YOUR PLANE IS IN TOP CONDITION! The last thing you want when you are flying close to the ground is an engine failure or some part of the airframe or control system to malfunction. It is highly likely that there will just not be enough time to recover before the ground rises up and hits you. Regular maintenance – even more frequently than required – and a sharp eye for any abnormalities in the aircraft are one of the keys to keeping yourself safe.

Finally, MAKE SURE YOU ARE IN TOP CONDITION yourself. We have all heard about ‘Human Factors’, we even had to pass an exam on them to get our license. So, to remind you, if you’ve been on the booze the night before, you’re taking medication that could affect your concentration or you’re feeling unwell in any way at all – don’t fly! Something else to remember – when you are low flying, you need a lot more concentration than plain ordinary flying. You’ll need to take regular and frequent rest breaks.

When you are a pilot, low flying can be very exhilarating. But it’s also very dangerous. However easy it looks, make sure you have the right training, your aeroplane is in perfect flying condition and you are 100% fit and ready. And, for what it’s worth – wear a helmet!

Happy (low) flying!

Foxbat Alto photoshoot

Monday 16 December 2019 dawned clear and cool – with a forecast of a hot and sunny, 35+ degrees celsius (that’s 95+ degrees Fahrenheit in old money), later in the day. Just after 07.00, my colleague Ido Segev and I collected two Ferrari-red Alto aircraft from Moorabbin Airport and flew them to our home base at Tyabb Airport (home of the Peninsula Aero Club), about 15-20 minutes flying time to the south. The air was ‘smooth as’ as they say and the brand new Alto I was flying purred along at an indicated 110 knots. Just behind me in our Alto demonstrator, Ido was enjoying the silky smooth air too.

At Tyabb, we met up with Matt McPhee, who would pilot one of the Altos in formation with Ido, and Mike Rudd, our videographer/photographer extraordinaire, who would be flying with me in our company Foxbat.

After about 45 minutes of planning, Mike and I took off, followed by Matt and Ido – Matt would be ‘number one’ closest to the camera and Ido ‘number two’, further out. Above about 1,000 feet, the air was still smooth so we climbed to about 1,500 feet for the shoot to begin.

We started off flying big circles, with maximum bank of about 15 degrees, to capture the sun and shadows from all angles. First, a right turn with Devilbend Reservoir and the ground as background and then left with the sky as background. Finally, we ran south along the beach area near Mornington, on the peninsula. There were a few bumps developing on the south lee side of the hill at Mount Martha, so we climbed to 2,000 feet, tracked in a big loop back to the north and tried the beach again. We also got some good pictures over Martha Cove Marina.

All too soon – although it was in fact well over an hour – we were done and the two Altos broke away to have some fun on their own while Mike and I returned to base at Tyabb.

As if I needed it, this flight reminded me yet again of the superb platform the Foxbat makes for photography, particularly air-to-air photography of LSA and ultralight type aircraft. The huge glazed doors allow such good visibility and the strut is far enough forward that positioning the target aircraft is very easy. Although the Foxbat is approved for doors off flying, on this occasion we opted to leave the doors on, to minimise wind buffeting. Unfortunately, our company Foxbat does not have the optional photo doors.

Nevertheless, the results are amazingly good. The lexan doors are relatively distortion free and both the video and photos are as clear as you could possibly need – Mike was shooting on 4k for the video and equivalent resolution for the stills.

You can see a short 3-minute video of the mission by clicking here: Alto Formation Shoot

There is a selection of Alto photos, including the formation, here: Alto Gallery

Aviation accident reporting

I’ve just experienced at first hand appallingly wrong media reports of an aeroplane accident at our local airport in Moorabbin, near Melbourne. If the media can get so wrong a basic report like this, how can they ever be believed when it comes to more complex issues?

However, irrespective of the wrong reporting, our thoughts are with the pilot, who was taken to hospital with serious injuries.

The story goes like this: accompanied by stills and video of the accident site, reports – so similar they must have just been blindly copied from one source – said a light aircraft had ‘come down’ at Moorabbin Airport. Two people were on board and the aircraft was a ‘high wing A22 Foxbat, made in Ukraine’ owned by a local flying school. 24 emergency personnel were on site, currently working to free the pilot, who remained in the aircraft.

Even a cursory glance at the picture of the inverted aeroplane (see above) shows it to be a low wing, not a high wing. It also turns out that there was only one person – the pilot – on board and the accident almost certainly resulted from a runway departure, either on take-off or landing. Quite an exaggeration to say the aircraft had ‘come down’.

I tried to find phone numbers for the various news media which published the report – ABC, Channel 9 News, 3AW, Herald Sun and The Age newspaper – to advise them of the errors. Have you ever tried to find a phone number for these people to correct their mistakes? Forget it, they just don’t publish such numbers. Presumably, the last thing they want is people calling to point out errors in their stories, as their lines would be permanently clogged!

In the end, I sent ‘urgent’ emails to the various newsrooms to say the aircraft was not a Foxbat. Only The Age newspaper responded with an apology by email and immediate correction on their online news page. Without any kind of acknowledgement, over the next half an hour most of the others removed the reference to the Foxbat, substituting with words like ‘a small 2-seat light aircraft’. I still don’t know if the Herald Sun changed their feed as they insist you pay a subscription to see their news!

This kind of erroneous reporting brings to mind another event at Moorabbin, where one of our Vixxens made a heavy bounced landing in very windy conditions and bent the nose landing gear. Right or wrong, the pilot elected to go round after the impact, only to be warned by the tower of the bent gear. At that time, almost all the media reported that the aircraft was ‘circling while the pilot attempted to fix the landing gear’ – a clearly ridiculous statement if you thought about it for only half a second! In fact, following emergency personnel advice, he was waiting for a foam blanket to be laid on the runway before making a successful landing, during which the nose leg fully collapsed and the aircraft remained upright. Both pilot and passenger walked away without a scratch.

In my personal experience, I have learned these lessons about news stories:
1. They have almost certainly not been given even a basic facts check.
2. The media makes it as difficult as possible for you to correct their mistakes.
3. If they get even simple, easy to check, stories wrong, how on earth can their reporting on more complex issues be believed?
4. It is very easy for people to state complete lies and the news media will publish it.

You have been warned!

Foxbat Australia – new website coming!

After almost 5 years with our current website at www.foxbat.com.au we have developed a new, much more modern site design for Foxbat Australia which will be going live in the next week or so.

Although the old website has been widely used and favourably commented on, apart from making it more visually attractive, we have aimed to make navigation simpler – particularly for the many visitors seeking technical specifications and maintenance information.

All the details from the old site have been retained and updated, including the ever-popular ‘Used Aircraft‘ page, which is statistically the most visited single page on the site! In addition, if you want to find a school or club in Australia using Aeroprakt aircraft, we have introduced a clickable map to help you find one near to you.

There are also additions of an in-site photo and video gallery, so you don’t have to navigate away from the site to see visuals. However, our linked Foxbat YouTube channel and Foxbat Facebook Page will remain in operation – have a look, we post new items regularly on Facebook and are planning more YouTube videos over the coming months.

Once the new site is up and running, feel free to send me your comments!

Blue Angels and Willie Nelson

Blue Angels – this picture is not photoshopped!

The Blue Angels are the US Navy’s precision formation aerobatics team. Originally formed in 1946 using Hellcat and Bearcat aircraft, the Blue Angels are famed for their amazingly tight formation flying. Currently using F18 Hornet jets – which have a very short wingspan – they often seem to be flying so close their wingtips are overlapping. One of their signature formations includes mixed inverted and upright aircraft, which often look quite weird.

Two for the price of one – not photoshopped

One of my favourite vocalists/guitarists is Willie Nelson, now in his late 80’s, a country singer of global stature. I first heard him too many years ago on a track called ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, a song written by Kris Kristofferson which is probably way more famous for Janis Joplin‘s recording, although I personally find her tempo a bit too fast. Over the years, I collected a variety of Willie Nelson albums – sadly mostly on vinyl, now long gone. In an unlikely combination, Willie Nelson pays tribute to the men and women of the Blue Angels in a short YouTube video, singing another of my favourites: ‘Still is still moving to me’.

Click the picture below to see the video – sorry the resolution is a bit low; there are better videos of the Blue Angels in action, and of Willie Nelson singing, but none of the two together.